Fairy Godmothers: Part Two
Jenna Blum. Tatiana de Rosnay. Miriam Gershow. Lynne Griffin. Margot Livesey
The women above share a wondrous and common trait (besides my life long gratitude for their willingness to read my novel.) All have that magical ability to take our eyes and glue them to the page. They force us to finish their books. Like all my favorite writers, they’ve stirred in the most captivating ingredient, making you need to know: what’s going to happen?
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay brutalized me (in the best way!) with her first lines: The girl was the first to heard the loud pounding on the door. Her room was closest to the entrance of the apartment. At first, dazed with sleep, she thought it was her father coming up from his hiding place in the cellar. He’d forgotten his keys, and was impatient because nobody had heard his first, timid knock. But then came the voices, strong and brutal in the silence of the night. Nothing to do with her father. “Police! Open up! Now!”
It is 1942 and the French police are arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Tatiana de Rosnay’s NYT bestselling Sarah’s Key tells the story of Sarah, who protects her young brother by locking him in a bedroom cupboard, promising to soon return, and the journalist who sixty years later investigates this midnight round-up and the confluence of events following the initial tragedy.
Life Without Summer by Lynne Griffin deals with that most difficult of topics, the death of a child and brought this reader (and mother) through this most intense nightmare intact, though shaken. She begins her novel with this first line, which I read about twenty times before continuing:
There’s a thus as her little body collides with the steel fender. No scream. Just a soft sigh, a surprised breath inhaled as she’s lifted from the ground only to be returned there. I hear it happen. I see it happen. And I wasn’t even there.
Like the main characters, the grieving mother and her quietly tortured therapist, the reader recovers from the book’s tragedies bit by bit. This is a painful yet ultimately hopeful book, which brings both the characters and the reader to their knees. Writing about this topic is brave. Lynne Griffin handles it with warmth and caring, and without skimming the horror inherent in the story.
I finished The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey with great sadness. In no way was I ready to leave these characters. Livesey describes love gone wild, love gone mundane, and love gone so wrong it threatens the loved and the lover. She captures this through four points of view: an unlikely pair of friends, one insecure and incautious with her heart, and her deeply troubled father, and one vivacious, who measures a man’s worth by what his life portfolio offers to her, and her hapless boyfriend who’s left his wife to be with this now-cold woman.
The longer I read, the further these characters seeped in. Margot Livesey’s spot-on characterizations forced me, normally a too-rapid reader, to linger. A passage on early love was so memorable in describing the glitter-period of love (that we think will last forever) I remembered it from nearly a year ago and flipped through the entire book to find it:
“ . . . each time they parted she felt as if someone—Sean? fate?—had thrown a pail of cold water over her. She knew that, if he were forced to recognize where they were going, he would flee. Sometimes, after he left, though, she would retreat to the bed they had not used and lie there, trying out the words, “I love you.” Had other people been feeling this all along and still managed to go about the world, dressed and productive?”
How perfect are those words? And yes, perhaps we are lucky that limerence has a shelf life, or we’d all be eating bread crusts, wearing rags, and still reading the hieroglyphics cavemen tapped into stone.
Thankfully, all my Fairy Godmother-Authors recovered from the crazy-period of love (and hopefully are enjoying the calming waters of everlasting love) and went on to write about it in all its glittery and ghastly forms.